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Bad Grades? Might Be Bad Luck.

Student: Can we talk about my grade in this class?

Gibbs: Sure.

Student: I don’t think my grade reflects my understanding of the material we’ve covered this semester. I understand the material quite well, but that’s not reflected in my grade.

Gibbs: How do you know you understand the material well?

Student: You can see that for yourself, can’t you? I’m involved in the discussions. I ask questions good questions. I offer good answers.

Gibbs: That is true. And what grade do you currently have?

Student: An 82.

Gibbs: And you think it ought to be?

Student: I think I have an excellent understanding of the material. I think I ought to have an A.

Gibbs: For the moment, I’ll go along with the idea you have an excellent understanding of the material, though I’m not certain you’ve actually demonstrated that. But let’s say you do have an excellent understanding of the material. Why does that mean you should have an A?

Student: Because a student’s grade should reflect their understanding.

Gibbs: What makes you say that?

Student: What else is a grade going to reflect?

Gibbs: A grade reflects a lot of things. It reflects understanding, but it also reflects hard work. You get good grades for turning in good work, not for understanding the material. Good work is born of understanding, but it’s usually born of hard work, as well.

Student: Fair enough. I think I’ve worked pretty hard, too.

Gibbs: And hard work usually pays off, though it doesn’t always pay off immediately. There’s usually a little patience required, as well. Of course, there’s something else that often plays a part in getting good grades, though very few teachers are willing to admit it.

Student: What’s that?

Gibbs: You’re going to be quite upset to hear me say it.

Student: Try me.

Gibbs: Luck.

Student: I don’t believe in luck.

Gibbs: Fine. Time and chance play a role in getting good grades.

Student: I don’t believe in chance either.

Gibbs: Then you don’t trust the language of Scripture.

Student: Where does Scripture speak of chance?

Gibbs: Solomon says, “The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happens to them all.”

Student: What does that mean?

Gibbs: The fastest runner doesn’t always win the race. The strongest army doesn’t always win the battle. The smartest men don’t always make it rich. They usually do, but there are no guarantees.

Student: Why wouldn’t the fastest runner win the race?

Gibbs: Sometimes the fastest runner trips ten feet from the finish line. There’s nothing that keeps time and chance from snatching the race from the swift.

Student: What does this have to do with getting good grades?

Gibbs: Your grade in this class isn’t bad. It’s just not as good as you’d like. A quick glance at the gradebook suggests you’ve got an 82 because of two low quiz scores you’ve received over the course of this grading period.

Student: Yes. I’m really not sure what happened on those quizzes. I knew all of that stuff the night before. All of it. My mother quizzed me on it. Both times, you handed out the quiz and my mind went black.

Gibbs: It didn’t go blank. You remembered quite a lot of what you studied. You nearly passed both o those quizzes.

Student: Okay, so my mind didn’t go blank. But I forgot most of the stuff that I had studied.

Gibbs: You forgot some of the things you studied, in which those two low quiz scores might be “time and chance.” You did the reading, you paid attention in class, you just couldn’t remember the material on the quiz. It happens. Things slip your mind. You have a bad day. It happens to everyone. There’s no amount of preparation that can keep you from having a bad day. I’m tempted to say it’s not your fault.

Student: If it’s not my fault, then you should raise my grade.

Gibbs: I can’t.

Student: Why not?

Gibbs: I can’t raise a student’s grade simply because the student says they understand the material. I can’t raise a quiz grade simply because a student says, “But I was having a bad day.” If a student answers a question correctly, I can’t mark it wrong just because it’s a lucky guess. Neither can I mark answers right that were unlucky guesses.

Student: Ugh, I know. I get that. What’s the point in studying and paying attention if it’s not going to pay off?

Gibbs: School isn’t the only realm of life where “time and chance” intervene. They intervene everywhere. School is just one of the first places where people are apt to learn this lesson. Time and chance are going to intervene in your career, your family, your friendships, your health…

Student: How do time and chance intervene in health?

Gibbs: If you want to avoid lung cancer, don’t smoke. And yet, there are people who have never smoked a single cigarette in their entire lives who get lung cancer, too, and there was nothing they could have done to avoid it.

Student: I see.

Gibbs: Of course, the best way to avoid lung cancer is to not smoke. The best way to win a race is to train and become fast. It’s fair to say that the fastest runner usually wins the race, so if you want to win, try to become the fastest. You have to train to become the fastest knowing the only guarantees in this life are death and taxes. When the race goes belly up, it might be your fault. But it might not.

Student: It’s hard to justify trying really hard when there are no guarantees. How do I know that studying hard this semester will pay off? What if I forget everything again?

Gibbs: You didn’t forget everything, but I understand the question. The only real solution is to work hard for some reason other than getting good grades. If hard work won’t pay off with good grades, it has to pay off with something else.

Student: Like what?

Gibbs: If I told you that hard work is pleasing to God, would that help?

Student: The only way to please God is through the blood of Jesus Christ. God’s love for me doesn’t depend on whether I work hard.

Gibbs: Alright, do you think your love for God depends on whether you work hard?

Student: What do you mean?

Gibbs: If God’s love for you is unchanging, is your love for God unchanging?

Student: No, I wouldn’t say that.

Gibbs: Some people love God more than others?

Student: Sure.

Gibbs: Well, the Lord says, “If you love me, keep my commandments,” and in Colossians, St. Paul says, “Do all things heartily as unto the Lord.” So do your school work heartily as unto the Lord.

Student: I know this sounds bad, but I just don’t find that very satisfying. It’s really hard for me to believe that school work has a spiritual component. School work is earthly. It’s as earthly as McDonalds and Wal-Mart and Taylor Swift. You do earthly things for earthly reasons.

Gibbs: There’s one aspect of that equation which isn’t earthly.

Student: Which part?

Gibbs: You. At least, you’re not entirely earthly. You have a body and a soul. Given that you have a soul—and that, in some sense, you are your soul—everything you do has a spiritual component to it. Everything you do with your body touches on your spiritual condition, your spiritual health. No matter how earthly Taylor Swift is, when a spiritual creature listens to her music, there’s a spiritual consequence. There’s a spiritual consequence to everything a spiritual creature does—sometimes the consequence is small and sometimes it’s great. I don’t think the spiritual consequences of work are hard to see, though—not even the work which is done when you’re young. Right now, you’re in the middle of a process that will turn you into one of two very different kinds of adults: a happy one or a miserable one. This process is one of the only things you do have control over.

Student: Why?

Gibbs: Because it’s a spiritual process, not a physical one. You’ll never have control over the world, but Jesus Christ has given you the ability to control yourself. He has empowered you to resist temptation and to give thanks even when you don’t feel like it. You can’t determine whether you will win the race, but you can determine whether you’ll give thanks for the result.

Student: What if the result isn’t a blessing?

Gibbs: If you give thanks for the result, it’s a blessing no matter what.

1 thought on “Bad Grades? Might Be Bad Luck.”

  1. Wise, humble, and patient words here. I will share this with my students who, by and large, are externally motivated.

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